How NWRC champions learning through creative projects

,  17 May 2016

North West Regional College (NWRC) is a Leadership College within our National Skills Academy network. Their participation in the network has gone from strength to strength and is a great illustration of what can be achieved by working together.

When I first joined Creative & Cultural Skills in 2009, one of the first phone-calls I got was from Basil Dalton, who at that time was Head of the Creative Department at NWRC. He was keen to establish a relationship because of the high value the college placed on their creative education programme. 

NWRC prioritises project-based learning and so has always relished the opportunity to participate in our live briefs, competitions and other experiences that we offer through the National Skills Academy.

The students have been amazingly successful in both our UK-wide and local competitions. In fact, they've won the Royal Opera House Costume Design competition three years in a row – this year adding marketing design to their trophy collection!

They've seen success in Northern Ireland-based competitions, from the ‘Signed and Delivered’ record label challenge to the design contest with the Department for Infrastructure Cycle Unit.

Student participation, learning and experiences

So NWRC students are winning, which is great! But the real importance here is that they are so keen to participate, learn and stretch their practice. The students and staff have their eyes on what is going on outside of Northern Ireland and want to learn from the rest of the UK.

Employment is still a huge challenge, and one that we can only tackle through our National Skills Academy network.

  • Art and Design students enjoy an annual trip to London to visit art exhibitions and cultural venues, including The Backstage Centre and Royal Opera House Production Workshop. 
  • Every year we have students attending Production Days at the Odyssey Arena.
  • In 2014 we arranged for them to go backstage at the BBC’s One Big Weekend in Derry-Londonderry. 

These experiences are provided as part of NWRC’s Leadership membership, and their high level of participation is a testimony to the learning culture at NWRC. 

Working across the curriculum

The success of NWRC is due, in large part, to the dedicated team of staff in the creative department. These tutors lead by example in their ambition to develop new and more challenging projects for the college and students to get involved with. 

When we bring new project ideas to the staff at NWRC, their response is always: “How can we make this work and create the best learning for students?” 

Enabling students to work across curriculum areas is particularly valuable and much more reflective of the ‘real world’. But it is notoriously difficult in an education setting because it requires juggling timetables along with different staff commitments and student priorities. This is another area in which the college are committed to doing more.  

We delivered a fantastic project with the college in 2014-15, which involved the creative department working hand-in-hand with students undertaking traditional trades such carpentry, joinery and electrics. The purpose of the project was to highlight to students outside of the creative faculty that there are clear job roles for their skills in the creative sector, such as set design and prop making. The project meant that students, who would never normally meet, collaborated to deliver an outstanding set for the Performing Arts Students end of year production of ‘Pulp Fiction’.

Promoting creative careers

NWRC have worked in partnership with us on a number of Creative Choices events. These have seen the college design dedicated careers days in their state-of-the-art theatre complex, which includes full lighting and sound facilities and a number of recording studios. 

These facilities enable the college to deliver hands-on workshops with school children in areas such as:

  • sound recording
  • stage lighting
  • set design
  • event marketing.   

Partnering on initiatives like this is so important for developing a more coherent talent pipeline in Northern Ireland. 

We all know there is no shortage of opportunities to work in the creative sector, but navigating into ‘employment’ is still a huge challenge. We can only tackle this through our National Skills Academy network – bringing both employers and educators together to create greater transparency and genuine entry-level roles.

Exciting projects ahead

The 2016-17 academic year is already shaping up to be a good one. We are in discussions with the BBC about running their ‘BBC Introducing’ project with students from across music, media, performing arts, and hair and beauty. NWRC will also host our Northern Ireland Creative & Cultural Skills Awards in November.  

We look forward to working with the college to help lead the way in cultivating the city’s young talent and future creative workforce.

North West Regional College is our Leadership College of the Month for May 2016. Find out more about the role of our Leadership Colleges

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